Mexico Stories

Jan McGirk is stuck on the ring road as the mayor's grand transport scheme crumbles before it's begun; meanwhile the poor are being told to eat maggots ? and they like them
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The Independent US

Like other irritable commuters who get stuck on the Periferico, the ring road that surrounds Mexico City, I beckon the vendors who sell hot coffee on credit during rush hour and collect payment during the evening traffic jam in the opposite direction. To creep past the nearest turnoff at Barranca del Muerto (Dead Man's Gulch) can take 20 minutes if I time it badly.

Like other irritable commuters who get stuck on the Periferico, the ring road that surrounds Mexico City, I beckon the vendors who sell hot coffee on credit during rush hour and collect payment during the evening traffic jam in the opposite direction. To creep past the nearest turnoff at Barranca del Muerto (Dead Man's Gulch) can take 20 minutes if I time it badly.

Yet as I idle in a queue, pedestrians who oppose the mayor's latest scheme to reduce the capital's monumental traffic jams have been thrusting petitions through my car window. The mayor, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, wants to build a second tier on top of the most clogged sections of motorway, speeding up the traffic across one of the world's most densely populated cities.

The plan is bold; for the price of building one metro stop, it aims to ease congestion along eight miles of road, cut pollution by reducing travel time and provide new employment in the capital. Over 70 per cent of Mexico City's drivers agreed in January that the project should go ahead and the groundbreaking for the first phase was meant to have taken place on Monday.

There are a couple of niggles, though. During the construction phase, cars will come to a complete standstill in the capital's most critical bottlenecks. And Mexico City is not only earthquake-prone, it is on permanent yellow alert for volcanic eruptions. Similar two-tier motorways in San Francisco and Kobe, in Japan, collapsed in major quakes. The prospect of being crushed by falling concrete would certainly speed up traffic, at least on the lower tier.

Federal environmental officials are unsettled by the haste to get started before full impact studies are complete. The Mexico City municipal council voted against the project, but their decision was not binding, and the mayor pressed ahead. Cynics suggest that Mr Lopez Obrador is mainly interested in winning votes in a future presidential race, which would coincide with the project's completion.

But while the mayor can brush the bureaucracy aside, he cannot force construction companies to build his double-decker highway. When bids were opened, without exception they turned out to be far beyond what Mexico City is willing to pay, and all were rejected out of hand.

The pace was as slow as ever on my commute the next day, but the protesters were nowhere to be seen. They knew that the mayor's pet project was stalled, just like the traffic it was meant to alleviate.

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A proposal to boost protein intake for the poor by mixing pulverised maggots into their cornmeal is, oddly enough, not putting Mexicans off their tacos.

Tortillas enriched with desiccated tenebrio monitor would prove far more nutritious than the ordinary Mexican staple, according to scientists from the Centre for Investigation and Development of Michoacan in central Mexico. Maggot tortillas contain amino acids and proteins resembling those found in beef, they claim, only they are healthier because they have less fat.

Omnivore Aztec traditions of snacking on seasonal insects and worms are so well entrenched that few would spurn maggot tortillas out of squeamishness. My one-year-old amigo, Daniel Lesur, gobbles down crispy grasshoppers as if they were sweets, then begs his mum for more. Cuitlacoche, a lurid purple corn fungus, is a gourmet delicacy. So are ant eggs – or "Mexican caviar" as they are euphemistically known – which appear on the most elite menus in the capital.

Gusanos de maguey, the worms that squirm inside spiky agave plants, are collected for deep frying every spring. Just douse with hot sauce.

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